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Introduction to the Epistle to the Colossians                            


I. Writer


The apostle Paul (Col. 1:1); for the rest part, please refer to “the Introduction to the Galatians;


II. The Recipients


To the saints in Colosse (Col. 1:2);

Hundreds of years before the Lord’s coming into the world, the city of Colosse was once a city second to none in Asia Minor in the area of Phrygia (Acts 18:23) of Asia Minor (Modern Turkey). Being located on the bank of the Lycus River, the city served as a big transit route for businessmen from the city of Ephesus on the seashore of the Aegean Sea to the Euphrates. However, it declined gradually later and was found to become an “insignificant town” in the records written by Historians in the first century. Moreover, the cities as Laodicea and Hierapolis close to Colosse (Col. 4:13) then transcended the city of Colosse in status and importance.

It was believed that the church in Colosse was initially built by Epaphras. Among the two years of Paul’s preachment in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), he gained Epaphras, who became the fellow worker of Paul afterwards (Col. 1:7-8; 4:12; Philem. 23). Possibly, it was Epaphras that brought the gospel to Colosse and build the church in Colosse. When Paul wrote this epistle, he had never visited them (Col. 2:1) and only heard them (Col. 1:4, 9) and yet he was much concerned about their situations.

Besides, there was another saying ---- since Paul had been to Phrygia (Acts 16:6; 18:23), he might have been to Colosse personally, and therefore he was acquainted with Philemon and his wife and son (Philem. 1-2, 22). After Paul had built the church in Colosse, he committed it to Epaphras and Philemon. Therefore, when Paul wrote this epistle, there arose many new believers whom Paul had never seen. It was inferred that the church in Colosse at that time were gathered in the house of Philemon (Philem. 1-2).


III. The Time and Location the Book was Written


Paul wrote this epistle in the Roman prison (Col. 4:3) during 61AD to 62AD together with other three epistles, namely, the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Epistle to the Philippians, and the Epistle to Philemon. Therefore, the Bible scholars call the above-mentioned four epistles “the Prison Epistles”. 


IV. The Background

Immediately when the church in Colosse was built, some heretics crept into the church and schemed to deceive believers (Col. 2:4). Epaphras brought this problem to Paul in Rome and asked him for solutions. Therefore, Paul wrote this epistle to refute the wrong doctrines of the heresy as well as to lead believers in Colosse into deeper knowledge of Christ. He compared the doctrine of the heresy with “the true knowledge” of Christ so as to make them know how to discern.

According to this book, heresies that were popular in the region round about Colosse could be mainly divided into three sorts:

1)    Ritualism: the Essenes of the Judaism who adheres to formalities rigidly and emphasizes religious traditions and ceremonies, e.g. food, feast (Col. 2:16-17) and circumcision (Col. 2:11; 3:11) and etc.

2)    Asceticism: men should obey the teachings of “not handling, not tasting, or not touching” and treat the body harshly against the indulgence of the flesh (Col. 2:21-23).

3)    Intellectualism: possibly the Gnosticism rising in the second century had been early sprout at that time, whose teachings carried the following features:

a)    Dualism: God is a Spirit, so He is perfectly good. Man is physical. And material is totally opposite to spirit, so man is thoroughly evil.

b)    The view on the universe: in the beginning, there was the only supreme true God. And the divine nature and power of the true God are called “eon”. After numerous generations, the high-ranked eon produced the low-ranked ion, and then the material man was produced. And the sum of all the eons is “fullness”.

c)    The view on the angels: man cannot directly touch God, but can touch God by the “eon” of the lowest rank, namely, angels. Therefore, man can please God by worshipping angels (Col. 2:18).

d)    The view on the redemption: all intelligence and knowledge are hidden in its “philosophy” (Col. 2:2-4, 18) and are called “the mystery of wisdom”. The way of salvation lies in the knowledge of its “mystery”.

e)    The way of the preachment: it was not preached to all, but to those who had taken part in them by pithy formulas, which were called “the tradition of men” in Paul’s epistle. Man who wanted to partake in them had to be introduced by someone and then went through a series of miscellaneous procedures.

f)     The view on the works: it was divided into two extremely opposite doctrines ---- one was the above-mentioned “asceticism” and the other held that man’s physical body could never be changed. And materials had nothing to do with spirit. Therefore, man could go after the flesh without controlling his body, for the wickedness of body could not influence the spirit. Paul had not openly mentioned this point, but his exhortation of “putting to death the members which are upon the earth” (Col. 3:5-9) was just related to this point.


V. Special Points


1)    The tone of the whole book is quiet, seasoned with salt (see Col. 4:6), but the words are powerful and meaningful and persuasive.

2)    Paul quotes many terms of the heretical teachings, such as “wisdom”, “mystery”, “fullness”, “perfect” and etc. so as to make the readers know the true meaning of these terms.

3)    The first chapter, verse fifteen to twenty, is called “the song of Christ”, which shows the supreme position and full deity of Christ and reveals the Godhead and transcendence of the Son briefly. All the words hit the mark of the heretical teachings and are the excellent words in the New Testament testifying the faith.

4)    This epistle especially reveals the fullness of Christ. “All the fullness of the Godhead” is manifested in Christ (Col. 2:9). As Christ manifests, so do we who have believed Him. Since Christ manifests Him by death, burial and resurrection, believers shall also manifest Christ by such experience (Col. 3:1-4). It is not only for individual believers, but also for the whole church ---- the fullness of the Godhead in Christ shall be manifested in the whole church (Col. 3:12-17). Besides, the fullness of Christ shall also be manifested in family life and social life (Col. 3:18-4:1, 5-6).


VI. General Description


“But Christ is all and in all (Col. 3:11)”. This is the central message of the whole book. Christ is the image of God and is the firstborn and the head of the body. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Such a Christ dwells in each of us so as to make all the fullness of God our fullness. Therefore, He has become our glory of hope. In a word, Christ is all in all. He is not only the source of the power of our Christian life, but also the best weapon for us to deal with all the heretical doctrines:

1)    Christ is the true knowledge that all spiritual wisdom and understanding lead to (Col. 1:9). Once man has known Christ, he must forsake the heretical doctrines.

2)    Christ is the firstborn and the head of all (Col. 1:15-18; 2:10). If man holds fast the Head, he cannot be puffed up but increase (Col. 2:18-19).

3)    In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9). Once man has obtained Christ, he has the glory of hope (Col. 1:27; 3:4).

4)    Christ has fulfilled the redemption for all (Col. 1:20; 2:13). As long as man believes Him without seeking other salvation or worshipping angels (Col. 2:18), he can draw near to God.

5)    All the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3). Once man has received Christ, he needs no longer to seek philosophy, or the teaching of men or the elements of the world (Col. 2:8).

6)    Christ is the body of all things (Col. 2:17). As long as one walks in Him, he needs not to keep ordinances or ceremonies (Col. 2:14, 16).

7)    Christ is the life of all believers (Col. 3:4, 11). As long as one lets Him dwell in him richly (Col. 3:16), he will have the performances of the new man without mortifying the flesh or observing the customs (Col. 2:20-23). 


VII. It’s Relations with Other Books in the Bible


1)    This Book matches with the Epistle to the Ephesians. The Epistle to the Ephesians reveals that the church is the body of Christ, and this book points that Christ is the head of the church.

2)    This book is written in the same time and location with the Epistle to Philemon. Both of them are closely related to one another, at least five points that are more or less the same:

a)    In the two epistles, Paul writes with his spiritual son Timothy together (Col. 1:1; Philem. 1).

b)    The names of Paul’s fellow workers ---- Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke and Demas ---- appear in both of the epistles (Col. 4:10, 12, 14; Philem. 23-24).

c)    Both of the epistles mention that Paul is in prison (Col. 4:10; Philem. 1).

d)    Paul greets the same one in this two epistles particularly, that is, Archippus (Col. 4:17; Philem. 2)

e)    Paul sends Onesimus to go with Tychicus who sends the Epistle to Colossians (Col. 4:7-9), and Onesimus is the main character in the Book to Philemon (Philem. 8-20).


VIII. Key Verses 


He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).

“If indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23);

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you are complete in Him” (Col. 2:9-10a).

Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11b).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).


IX. Key Words


“Know”, “be filled with the knowledge”, “increasing in the knowledge” (Col. 1:6, 9, 10, 27; 2:2; 4:6);

“Wisdom and understanding”, “all wisdom”, “understanding”, “wisdom and knowledge” (Col.1:9, 28; 2:2, 3, 23; 3:10, 16; 4:5);

“Firstborn”, “head”, “beginning”, “preside” (Col. 1:15, 18; 2:19; 3:15);

“Be filled with”, “fullness”, “fill up”, “fulfill”, “perfect”, “all riches”, “full”, “richly” (Col. 1:9, 19, 24, 25, 28; 2:2, 9, 10; 3:16; 4:12);

“The hidden mystery”, “manifest”, “mystery”, “the mystery of God”, “hid”, “the mystery of Christ”, “manifest” (Col. 1:26, 27; 2:2, 3; 3:3, 4; 4:3, 4);

“All”, “every, “all things”, “all the world”, “every man”(Col. 1:9, 10, 15-20, 23, 28; 2:1, 3, 9, 13, 22; 3:8, 11, 14; 4:7, 9, 12);

“Fellow”, “share”, “one body” (Col. 1:7, 12; 2:12, 20; 3:1, 4, 15; 4:7, 10, 11);


X. Outlines of the Book


A.   Introduction (Col.1:1-2);

B.   What the Church in Colosse Had Received:

1.    Paul gives thanks to God for the faith and love and hope of the church received from the gospel (Col. 1:3-8);

2.    Paul prays to God for the growth of the church in spiritual things (Col. 1:9-11);

3.    What the transcendent and glorious Christ is and what He does for the church (Col. 1:12-22);

4.    The solicitude and service of the church obtains from Paul (Col. 1:23-29);

C.   What the Church in Colosse Have to Know at Present:

1.    To know all the all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge so as to be steadfast in faith and not to be deceived by persuasive words (Col.2:1-7);

2.    To know that in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily so that believers can live a victorious life in Him; and know that the heretical doctrines are empty deceit not according to Christ (Col.2:8-15);

3.    To know that Christ is the reality of all the ceremonies and customs and man can only increase by the union with Christ; and know that all the ceremonies and customs according to the commandments and doctrines of men are of no value (Col.2:16-23);

D.   What the Church in Colosse Shall Practice Henceforth:

1.    Set her mind on things above (Col. 3:1-4);

2.    Manifest the works of the new man (Col. 3:5-11);

3.    The principles of the life of the members in the church (Col. 3:12-17);

4.    The principles of the relationship in family life (Col. 3:18-4:1);

5.    The principles of preaching to and dealing with those that are without in society (Col. 4:2-6);

E.   The Epilogue ---- Greeting and Exhortation (Col.4:7-18);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou